Ecclesiastes 1:1-11

In the movie "City Slickers" Billy Crystal plays the part of a man who is going through his mid-life crisis. He has passed the summit of a lackluster career and his work is no longer satisfying. He realizes that his vacations of late have been a vain attempt to retain his youth and he notices that there are hairs beginning to grow out of his ears.

One day he has been asked to address his son's fourth grade class as part of a job learning program. He stumbles about and then says to them, "Value this time in your life, kids. This is the time in your life when you have choices. It goes by so fast. When you are a teenager, you think that you can do anything, and you do. Your twenties are a blur. In your thirties you make a little money, raise a family, and wonder, ‘What happened to my twenties?' In your forties, you grow a pot belly and another chin. The music starts to get too loud and one of your old girlfriends becomes a grandmother. In your fifties, you have a minor surgery - you call it a ‘procedure.' In your sixties, you have a major surgery and the music is still loud but that doesn't matter because you can no longer hear it. In your seventies, you and the wife move to Florida and you start having dinner at 2 in the afternoon, lunch at 10 in the morning, and breakfast the night before. You spend most of your time wandering around malls looking for the ultimate low-fat yogurt and muttering, ‘How come the kids don't call?' In your eighties you have a major stroke and end up babbling to a Jamaican nurse whom your wife can't stand, but who you end up calling, ‘Momma.'"

It is this kind of empty and futile existence that we see displayed in the book of Ecclesiastes. This theme is introduced in the first two verses of the book.



The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.

"Vanity of vanities," says the Preacher, "Vanity of vanities! All is vanity." (Ecclesiastes 1:1-2).

The book begins by introducing both the author as well as the theme of the book. He wishes to set forth at the very beginning who he is and the subject of his writing.

1. Introduction of the Preacher.

The writer of the book opens by introducing himself. He does this in three ways.

a. He calls himself the "Preacher."

The Hebrew word is Qoheleth. It describes one who addresses the assembly, the congregation.

b. He is the son of David.

David was the king. The Preacher is the son of the King.

c. He is king in Jerusalem.

David had a number of sons. But only one of them became king in Jerusalem. That was Solomon, the son of David and Bathsheba.

It is interesting that all three of the titles used here by the author can be applied to Jesus Christ. He is the Preacher, the proclaimer of good news. He is the Son of David. And He is the king who came to His own in Jerusalem and who reigns forever in the New Jerusalem.

Though there are similarities between Solomon and Jesus, there are also some very important differences.

Do you remember the story of Solomon? At the outset of his reign as king, the Lord appeared to him in a dream and offered to him anything he would ask. Solomon could have asked for greatness or glory or riches or political security or long life. Instead, he asked for WISDOM. And the Lord rewarded him both with wisdom as well as with all of those other things.

This was a man who had it ALL. He had power and glory and wisdom and a long life in which to enjoy all of it. And in the end, his conclusion will be that it is all empty - that it is vanity.

2. Vanity.

The word "vanity" is the Hebrew word that literally refers to a small breath of wind, a breeze. This is seen in Isaiah 57:13 where we read:

But the wind will carry all of them up,

And a breath will take them away.

When used figuratively, refers to that which is "worthless, vain or empty." This was also the name of Adam's son, Abel.

When you wanted to emphasize a point in Hebrew, you repeated it. Jesus did this ("Truly, truly"). By repeating this word ("vanity of vanities"), the writer expresses the superlative. He does the same thing in the Song of Solomon ("Song of songs"). The idea here is that there is an emptiness which is above all other emptinesses. The Preacher wants to emphasize and underline and boldface this point.


Don't take it from me. Take it from Solomon. Take it from the wisest man who ever lived. Take it from the man who tried everything there was to try, who did everything there was to do. Take it from the King of the Upper Class. It is all empty.

If you are looking at life only "under the sun," it will be empty. The optimist says that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. But Solomon suggests that light is probably only the headlamp of an oncoming train.



What advantage does man have in all his work which he does under the sun? (Ecclesiastes 1:3).

Having given the answer, the Preacher now asks the question. What advantage does a man have in anything he does in this life? What's the use? Why are we here? Why do we work and labor and strive?

You've heard about the man who climbed the ladder of success, only to find that it was leaning against the wrong wall. Is there a right wall? Why do we climb?

The scope of the question is seen in verse 3. It is under the sun. That is the perspective from which this question is asked. It looks at life down here as opposed to life "up there." It looks at life from man's perspective rather than from God's perspective. It looks at life "under the sun" instead of at life "over the sun."

Is this a Christian perspective? No! It is a humanistic perspective. When you look at this life only, it doesn't make a lot of sense. It is empty. This is confirmed in the New Testament.

If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:19).

If life is only viewed from our earthly perspective, then there isn't much for which to live because you really don't make much of a difference. You are born in one hospital and you die in another hospital and in between you try to stay out of any hospitals. But eventually you die. And when you compare your life with the world around you, it is your life that comes up short. This is illustrated in four areas:

Illustrated By


The Earth

A generation goes and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever (1:4).

The Sun

The sun rises and the sun sets; and hastening to its place it rises there again (1:5).

Wind Patterns

Blowing toward the south, then turning toward the north, the wind continues swirling along; and on its circular courses the wind returns (1:6).

Water Cycle

All the rivers flow into the sea, yet the sea is not full. To the place where the rivers flow, there they flow again (1:7).

The Preacher points to each of the basic elements - Earth, fire, wind and water - to show how the world frustrates man.

1. Illustrated in the Perpetualness of the Earth.

A generation goes and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. (Ecclesiastes 1:4).

We always tend to feel that we are the "now" generation. But today's novelty is the material of tomorrow's garbage heap. Old age doesn't make you any wiser. It only teaches you the transience of life. The older you get, the more you see people die and the passing of your generation. And there is a dreary sameness to each generation which you can only see in its passing. It teaches us the transience of life.

2. Illustrated in the Rising and Setting of the Sun.

Also, the sun rises and the sun sets; and hastening to its place it rises there again. (Ecclesiastes 1:5).

As each generation comes and goes, so also each day comes and goes with a regular and monotonous passing. Chuck Swindol said, "The problem with daily living is that it is so DAILY."

3. Illustrated in the Wind.

Blowing toward the south, then turning toward the north, the wind continues swirling along; and on its circular courses the wind returns. (Ecclesiastes 1:6).

All winds move in circuits, either clockwise or counter clockwise. There are regular weather patterns which are repeated again and again. They remind us of the continuing "sameness" of life.

4. Illustrated in the Cycle of Water.

All the rivers flow into the sea, yet the sea is not full. To the place where the rivers flow, there they flow again. (Ecclesiastes 1:7).

Water from the ocean is evaporated and carried over the mountains where it condenses in the cool air and rains on the mountains and flows down in rivers into the ocean where it is again evaporated in an unending cycle.

In each of these areas, there is an unending "sameness." But YOU are not the same because you are here today and gone tomorrow. And when you are dead and buried, the sun will continue to rise and set and the winds will continue to blow and the rains will continue to fall and they will not even notice the fact that you are gone.



Man's Existence in Futile because there is no...









In contrast to the earth, the sun, the wind and the water

You never see or hear or say enough

Nothing new under the sun

Even when you do something significant, it is forgotten

Now the preacher takes all of the unending cycle and applies it to man's experience. There is something wrong. It seems to us as though it is nature that ought to be transient while man is the one who ought to be permanent.

1. The Lack of Satisfaction.

All things are wearisome; man is not able to tell it. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor is the ear filled with hearing. (Ecclesiastes 1:8).

Notice the three activities of man mentioned here.

The point is that you always want more. Have you seen a good movie? Read a good book? Watched a magnificent sunset? Enjoyed a restful vacation? Delight in a special experience? It is never enough. It never satisfies, for ultimately you want MORE.

2. The Lack of Novelty.

That which has been is that which will be, and that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun.

Is there anything of which one might say, "See this, it is new"? Already it has existed for ages which were before us. (Ecclesiastes 1:9-10).

We live in an age of novelty. We have seen things in our day of which our ancestors did not even dream.

And yet, with regard to human nature, there is a mundane similarity to the people of the past. The more things change, the more they remain the same.

Parents know this. They watch their kids and they remember when they used to do the same things their kids used to do. And they find themselves saying the same things that their parents used to say to them.

3. The Lack of Remembrance.

There is no remembrance of earlier things; and also of the later things which will occur, there will be for them no remembrance among those who will come later still. (Ecclesiastes 1:11).

Even when you DO accomplish something significant, it is eventually forgotten. My father was an officer in the United States Air Force. He flew in three different wars and he received a handful of medals. I have some of those medals, but in some cases I don't even know what they signified. A few generations from now they will likely find their way to a dumpster.

I have a couple of degrees from college and seminary. But after I am dead and gone, they were be mere wastepaper.

There isn't much that we do that is noticed while we are alive and there is even less that will be remembered after we are gone. Your entire life will one day be condensed onto a single line of a neglected tombstone.

What do you know about your great-great grandfather? What were his accomplishments? His dreams? His aspirations? Do you even know his name? (I don't).

Life is transient. Everything you have and everything you are will one day be forgotten. And that is the message of Ecclesiastes. It portrays life "under the sun." It is a rather depressing picture. It is depressing because life without God is always depressing.

The good news is that God has not left us "under the sun." For Christians, life is not "under the sun" but rather WITH THE SON. And that makes all the difference in the world. There is a little rhyme taught to me as a child which goes:

"Only one life, will soon be past,

Only what's done for the Lord will last."

There is a principle here. It is the principle of permanence. The only permanent things are our service to the Lord. They may be forgotten in this life, but they are written where it counts.

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